Friday, September 28, 2007

Analysis of Stem Cell Research Campaign Ad

We've all seen the Claire McCaskill's campaign ad from last year with Michael J. Fox, right? In case you haven't, it's on YouTube.

The obvious enthymeme here is Vote for Claire McCaskill because she'll support stem cell research.

But certainly there's a lot more going on. Why, for instance do we need a famous actor like Michael J. Fox in order to tell us that McCaskill is pro-stem cell research? We need only look at Jim Talent's voting record to see that he (as Fox says) not only opposes funding, but also tried to make the research illegal in Missouri.

So Fox is here to be a sign of what stem cell research can do. McCaskill appeals to our pathos. Seeing the star of Teen Wolf unable to control his movements, we're moved to pity and we want to believe that stem cell research can help real people that we feel a connection with.

So the ad contains the premise that supporting stem cell research can help treat people like Michael J. Fox. And the premise that supporting Claire McCaskill is supporting stem cell research. One unstated assumption is that we ought to support stem cell research if it helps people like Michael J. Fox. Another is that supporting stem cell research should be done through electing advocates to the US government.

The ad actually ignores the main claim of those who oppose (human embryonic) stem cell research: that it destroys human life (or potential human life, or the sanctity of human life). The question is, does the ad address those who accept that claim? If so, then it has to also contain the assumption that the destruction of embryos is justifiable, either because they are not life or because they are less important than people like Michael J. Fox. That, or McCaskill hopes by not mentioning the issue, people will forget about that objection because the painful-to-watch image of a familiar face and voice behind erratic movements caused by over-medication is much stronger than that of petri dishes in a lab.


Landis said...

Great analysis. Regardless of where one stands on the issue (I myself am not anywhere near knowing enough to even guess where I would stand if I did), your post got me thinking that there seems to be some irony in the fact that the pro-stem cell side is much more able to attach a face to their cause than the anti-stem cell side who actually argues against the research on the basis of the sanctity of life. The anti-stem cell side would not be able to pick out a single face to attach to their argument and say, see, look at how stopping stem-cell research benefits real people. I'm not saying this speaks for one side or the other but just that it seems (and I may be wrong due to my ignorance of the science and even the politics involved) to be an interesting asymmetry.

Amy said...

Certainly pro-life advocates attempt to attach a face to fetuses--billboards with babies and comments like "My heart was beating X days after conception" or one I recently saw of a baby with Down's syndrome held by older children saying "Our brother is a blessing."

But even if that works for fetuses, it's not quite as effective for embryos.